Web, Mobile and Social Businesses 

In this final article of the series where we reviewed Sramana Mitra’s 1MX1M global virtual accelerator, we consider the immense and tangled topic of web, mobile and social businesses. Each of these could fill volumes so the focus will be on some pertinent issues facing this digital business arena.

At its heart, social networking has been a change agent, empowering people and transforming their attitudes towards how to get things done.

Consumers’ expectations of how they interact with the companies they buy products from have altered radically, with open dialogue via online channels replacing passive acceptance of marketing messages.

What we are seeing is the advent of the Social Business, where traditional ways of working are being challenged and in many cases superseded by a model based on collaboration, empowerment and openness.

What does it mean to be a Social Business?

 

It is a company that embraces and empowers networks of people to create business value, providing them with exceptional work experiences. It has three underlying tenets:

1. Engagement

A Social Business connects people to expertise. It enable individuals, whether customers, partners or employees, to form networks of relationships that generate new sources of innovation, foster creativity, and establish greater reach and exposure to new business opportunities. It establishes a foundational level of trust across these business networks and, thus, a willingness to openly share information. It empowers these networks with the collaborative tools needed for members to engage with each other and creatively solve business challenges.

2. Transparency

A Social Business strives to remove unnecessary barriers between experts inside the company and expertise in the marketplace. It embraces the tools and leadership models that support capturing knowledge and insight from many sources, enabling it to quickly sense changes in customer mood, employee sentiment or process inefficiencies. It utilizes analytics and social connections inside and outside the company to solve business problems and uncover new business opportunities.

3. Nimbleness

A Social Business leverages its social networks to speed up business, gaining real time insight to make quicker and better decisions. It gets information to and from customers and partners in new ways, and faster. Supported by ubiquitous access on mobile devices and working together on open platforms, a Social Business turns time and location from constraints into advantages. Business is free to occur when and where it delivers the greatest value, allowing the organization to adapt quickly to the changing marketplace.

Ultimately, by creating networks of expertise and making them easy to access, a Social Business enables its employees and customers to more easily find the information they seek. It helps groups of people bind together into communities of shared interest and coordinate their efforts to deliver better business results faster. It encourages, supports and takes advantage of innovation and idea creation and builds on the wisdom of the crowd.

How is this value actually manifested within the Social Business? Take, for example, marketing. In a traditional enterprise, marketing is engaged with pushing content to its audiences, and is focused on controlling the brand rather than reacting to the needs of its customers.

By deepening customer relationships through interactive channels, the Social Business can both drive advocacy amongst its customers and increase sales by engaging directly with the people who buy its products. Another example is product development.

Whereas R&D has often been conducted by specialist teams in isolated knowledge silos, with prototypes only market-tested months into development, the Social Business uses its networks of expertise and closer relationships with its customers to generate ideas and create market-ready products faster and more efficiently.

As smart mobile devices and social media have become first-order ways in which we interact with the world and each other, they are becoming intertwined in ways that will have far-reaching impact. The world at large is starting to wake up to the fact that we're all connected together, continuously, to everyone else in the world. The notion of Six Degrees of Separation comes to mind. What's more, we're now figuring out ways to optimise and make the very most of this fact, one almost certainly unique in all human history.

Both social and smart mobile devices have directly had a large hand in reducing these barriers to practically zero because of their innate network effects and ease-of-use.  Mobile apps and app stores have also done much to put the powerful new services in everyone's hands, while social media has simultaneously connected the world's population together in ways we almost entirely craft ourselves.

Geography, cost, time, discoverability, and even language have largely fallen as significant obstacles to communicating and collaborating with everyone in the world. Or perhaps more importantly, at scale, with any community in the world.

The more profound and impactful benefits of social/mobile will ultimately come via the shift to digital business models that tap into the mass self-organising (aka social business) aspects already mentioned.

Mobile and social convergence (or is it collision?)

It may not be so easy to reconcile the current state of smart mobile devices with social media. Never mind that a large percentage of mobile apps are already social (with sharing buttons and close integration with Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, etc.) Many organisations still ignore the increasingly vast array of sensors in smart mobile devices that makes it even easier for the social applications to collapse space and transport the real-world over the network in useful ways. Many businesses overlook the fact that mobile devices are essentially based on proprietary platforms that we have little control over. All of these are key issues with mobile/social convergence.

But despite the growing of integration of social networks into the operating systems of mobile devices, there are a number of fundamental issues in conflict that have significant implications for companies that must make the shift to mobile and social in a way that preserves what matters most to them. 

Six implications of mobile/social convergence:

  • Convenience and reach.Mobile devices will soon become the main way that people use social networks. Your enterprise social strategy, both internally and externally, should now be mobile-first, even though you can't forget legacy devices yet or even any time soon.
  • Challenges of social on proprietary platforms.Unlike the open standards of the Web, mobile applications are based on proprietary technology. Whether an organization is building its own apps or 3rd party apps, there will be a tension between the lack of standardisation, platform lock-in, and vendor competition that will impact the openness and transparency that makes social media so effective.
  • Mobile sensors will drive innovation and business value.Smart mobile devices aren't laptops that are lighter, they have a rich set of new sensors (compass, GPS, accelerometers, gyroscopes, multiple cameras, NFC, and more) with operating systems designed to take advantage of them. This can enable many interesting business scenarios such as multiple-point video chat with Google Hangouts, transcripted recorded of meetings, voice integration with social media, and many other communication advances. While unified communication platforms are focusing on these even more than enterprise social media, both will ultimately take advantage of it to drive productivity internally and better engagement externally, such as withsocial customer care.
  • Mobile apps integrated with social networks.Put simply, non-social apps are getting connected to social networks, mostly public ones for now, but also enterprise social networks when it makes sense. The IT world has learned that enterprises mustconnect their systems of record to their systems of engagementto get maximum benefit of both technologies.
  • Digital business models shift to mobile platform providers.Those who own the platforms make the rules, and this has proven the case with mobile platforms when it comes to business models. App purchases, in-app purchases, advertising, and more are all under the strict control of Apple, Google, and other mobile platform owners. Those looking to monetise their mobile services have to closely work with them, unlike the Web, where any business model that is legal (and sometimes otherwise) is potentially viable and under the control of who creates it.
  • Information flows are more potent, yet harder to control in converged social/mobile.Social networks and mobile apps provide higher levels of reach and scale, yet makes it much harder to control the information that moves within and across them. As it was with Web 2.0, control of hard-to-create data will be as important as ever but even more challenging given how quickly and easily information can be spread, copied, and lost.

Mobile/social convergence will have limited negative impact and considerable upside. Those that ignore the issues, however, almost certainly have a painful learning curve ahead.

Social collaboration, mobile devices, the Cloud, and customer engagement are combining to form one of the most powerful marketing movements known to humankind. The lure of a globally connected market of billions of netizens, also known as potential customers, will warrant a plethora of social businesses in the not too distant future; is yours one of them?